The Whistleblower Protection Act 1989 was passed by Congress twenty-five years ago, and to mark this anniversary Senator Chuck Grassley delivered a speech on the Senate floor. He gave particular attention to the abysmal reality that United States intelligence agency employees still lack meaningful protection.
Special attention was paid to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for its fierce resistance to protecting whistleblowers or allowing Congress to conduct oversight of how they refuse to allow whistleblowers to enjoy protection.
Grassley, who is a Republican, is one of the few members of Congress consistently outspoken on issues related to whistleblowers. He sent a letter to the FBI four months ago and requested that “training material” on the Insider Threat Program be provided to Congress.
The Insider Threat Program was launched by President Barack Obama in October 2011 and encourages snitching among government employees and creates a work environment where managers can be punished if they fail to report “suspicious activity.”
The program, McClatchy Newspapers reported, equates “leaks” with “espionage.” It instructs employees to be on the lookout for individuals suffering from “narcissism” or “antisocial personality disorder.”
Grassley was concerned and wanted to “examine” whether the FBI “adequately” distinguishes between insider threats and whistleblowers. An FBI legislative affairs determined a briefing would be the best way to answer questions.
The briefing happened last week and was a stunning example of the disdain and contempt the FBI has for whistleblowers.
“Staff for both Chairman Leahy and I attended, and the FBI brought the head of their Insider Threat Program,” Grassley recounted. “Yet the FBI didn’t bring the Insider Threat training materials as we had requested.”
“The head of the Insider Threat Program told the staff that there was no need to worry about whistleblower communications. He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people.”
Grassley incredulously stated in his remarks on the Senate floor, “Now I have never heard of whistleblowers being required to ‘register’ in order to be protected.”
“The idea of such a requirement should be pretty alarming to all Americans,” he added. “Sometimes confidentiality is the best protection a whistleblower has. Unfortunately, neither my staff nor Chairman Leahy’s staff was able to learn more, because only about ten minutes into the briefing, the FBI abruptly walked out. FBI officials simply refused to discuss any whistleblower implications in its Insider Threat Program and left the room. These are clearly not the actions of an agency that is genuinely open to whistleblowers or whistleblower protection.”
Registration would simply make it easier for the inspector generals overseeing intelligence or “national security” agencies to refer names to the Justice Department for investigation. That is what happened to four National Security Agency whistleblowers.
William Binney, Thomas Drake, Ed Loomis and Kirk Wiebe all tried to call attention to what they wanted to expose internally. They made complaints to the Department of Defense inspector general and that inspector general turned around and “gave up the names of all four whistleblowers to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.”
Drake was prosecuted under the Espionage Act, the World War I-era law which the Obama administration has used to prosecute a record number of leakers like they are spies.
Grassley also highlighted a statement by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper from February this year:
…We are going to proliferate deployment of auditing and monitoring capabilities to enhance our insider threat detection. We’re going to need to change our security clearance process to a system of continuous evaluation. . . . What we need is . . . a system of continuous evaluation, where . . . we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job, to see if there is a potential clearance issue. . . .
Essentially, to prevent the next Edward Snowden, Clapper wants to place any employee who works for an intelligence agency under total surveillance, even when they are not at work. All their communications would be collected and sifted through. They would give up all privacy if they wanted to have a security clearance and serve in a position in US government.
Such surveillance would also collect personal information that could be used by managers or supervisors against employees in order to deny them promotions or intimidate them if they chose to confront management over a workplace issue.
Last November, McClatchy, which has done exceptional work reporting on the Insider Threat Program, reported that thousands of Americans had their personal data passed on to US agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and NSA as part of an effort to uncover “untrustworthy federal workers.”
A truly McCarthy-esque list “unprecedented” in nature was disseminated widely with ease when there was no good reason for the government to be sharing this data at all.
The contempt the FBI has for whistleblowers, which is a distinct part of the bureau’s history, was essentially overlooked by Obama when he chose to oppose including protections for intelligence agency employees in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and issued a presidential policy directive instead.
“President Obama’s action undercut support” for provisions, which Grassley had made sure were included in the legislation. They were removed and Obama sent a message with his directive that “statutory protection” was not necessary.
Grassley concluded his floor remarks by stating, “Whistleblower protections are only worth anything if they’re enforced. Just because we’ve passed good laws does not mean we can stop paying attention to the issue. There must be vigilant oversight by Congress. The best protection for a whistleblower is a culture of understanding and respecting the right to blow the whistle.”
There are people in government like Dan Meyer, the executive director for intelligence community whistleblower and source protection, who regularly engage in work to change the culture of government agencies to respect whistleblowing. He has spent the last ten years of his career working to defend whistleblowers and is a whistleblower himself.
Meyer took issue with the delay of an inspector general report on the leaking of classified information by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his top adviser, Michael Vickers, to Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers. And, now, the Pentagon inspector general is reportedly trying to revoke his security clearance and have him suspended.